693A5439 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Simon Jones, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Please don’t worry, unlike a million others today I’m not going to use this blog to talk politics! This is a marketing and business blog, and I’m only interested in talking about what I’ve seen during the recent election in the UK that might be described as the ‘communications’ or ‘marketing’ of the various parties.

Its seems to me that the main parties involved and in particular the main opposition party suffered from a lack of differentiation. They simply did not stand out enough on their own to warrant significant support. Rather, and this is similar to a number of categories in business, they decided to fight the ‘battle’ on the same platform as the incumbents. Lets say that platform was basically the economy, for the sake of simplicity here.

The message seemed to me to be “We will do largely what they are doing and also look after the economy, and make cuts like everyone thinks should be made, but our cuts will some how be better!”

This is the equivalent to supermarkets all trading on being the cheapest / best value / best choice! The trouble is, everyone says that and its impossible to then differentiate between companies, or in this case, political parties!

So the message ‘buy from us, we are offer the best value’, is completely diluted by the fact everyone says the same thing.

This is why businesses like Apple and Ferrari do well to hold on the higher prices. Its makes the claims that their produce is somehow better than the other companies produce more easily believable. The reality is, there may be little difference between their products and a competitors product, other than the perception of difference brought about by price.

The easiest way to position something is through price. Why is the Apple Watch so expensive? So that it immediately carries the mantle of high quality. Thats why you can’t buy a cheap Italian super car, or a bargain luxury holiday. The fact they cost more money than the competitors products is the indicator to the quality differentiator.

So when businesses try to compete with each other on price, say by flooding a market with similar products with similar prices, they get into a very difficult place.

“We are the same price as them, but also better!”

Or in the case of politics…

“We have the same policies, the same position on things, but ours are better!”

We intuitively know that this cannot be the case. We simply do not believe things that cost the same are substantively better than an equivalent. Whether thats in terms of prices, or taxes or cuts.

And thats where brands come in.

The reason you might prefer Brand A rather than Brand B is simply down to how you feel about Brand A. The emotional relationship you have with it. People try to tell me why they prefer one super market over another for instance, but what they are really saying is, for whatever reason, they prefer the experience at Brand A, they like Brand A more. Thats what Branding is all about.

So you are either cheaper, so you can win the price war. Better, and generally more expensive to underscore the level of quality you can produce, or people like you more.

If all things are equal, its takes something seismic to shift people out of the status quo. ‘Better the devil you know’ than someone who has failed to convince you that they can offer a believable and realistic alternative position.

This is why ‘extremist’ political parties like the socialist party in Greece, or even the more right wing parties of northern Europe are claiming ground. The identifiably stand for something. And in some cases that ‘something’ is just ‘something different’.

The point is though, that it is significantly different. Different enough to stand out and allow people to rally round it.

The brilliant Seth Godin tells us that we all want to be part of a Tribe. But he brilliantly observes that we also want to be led in that Tribe by someone. Someone that can make us feel good, or safe, or valued or whatever. See a brilliant talk in the video below.

Fighting for business, or votes on the same ground, the same platform as you’re adversary is a recipe for disaster.

Unless people have an emotional connection to you via your brand, or your reputation if you like, then the battle becomes almost unwinable. You are doomed to a trading environment where you’ll at best fluctuate from up to down and back again, subject to the fickle whims of the market.

Having brilliant brands comes from being these things and communicating them well, consistently and generally over long periods of time. If you havent built a brand, or you need time to change peoples perception of you, the choice is simple:

Either be cheaper or be different.

Otherwise you’ll just merge in the background and die from being too similar to everything else.

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2 thoughts on “What Politicians Should Learn From Business

  1. Hi Tony – you are spot on here. For my job I read all the party manifestos and what they were promising business in Wales… there was overlap in every case and it was impossible to say categorically and clearly ‘this party is standing for…’ Branding is often regarded as superficial but when it is based on deeply held values which are shaped into a powerful story and reinforced through every channel, it is immensely powerful.

    Here speaks an old warrior from the 1997 Labour victory team!

    1. Thanks Pippa, and again with Tony Blair, maybe the perfect storm of his charisma and charm and the once in a generation ‘positioning’ of New Labour message absolutely smashed apart the competition. As good an illustration as any!

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